Linebacker Jaylon Smith celebrates after the Giants beat the Vikings in the wild-card round. New York is in the divisional round for the first time since 2012 and faces Phiadelphia on Saturday night. Abbie Parr/Associated Press

Dancing on the practice field. Playing ping-pong in the locker room. All in all, there seemed to be even more juice than usual for these Giants in the week leading up to their second playoff game.

You can say they have nothing to lose as a 7 1/2-point underdog Saturday night in Philadelphia, but the Giants don’t believe they are playing with house money in the NFC Divisional Round.

They are loose, confident, hungry and feel they are contending for a Super Bowl – no matter what the preseason expectations were with first-year head coach Brian Daboll.

“We’re here for a reason,” running back Saquon Barkley said. “You’ve got to win football games to get into the playoffs. No one is just invited, you’ve got to get in. We got in. To make it to where you want to go, you’ve got to win or you go home. We did that the first round, and now we’ve got another opportunity in the second round.”

In a sense, the sixth-seeded Giants have the top-seeded Eagles right where they want them. The Giants are hot, with their two highest-scoring games of the season coming in the past month. The Eagles are rusty, having not had a fully healthy Jalen Hurts since mid-December.

So the question becomes: Will the Giants’ momentum continue, or will the Eagles recapture their midseason mojo?


The answer might come down to how New York’s offensive line handles Philadelphia’s pass rush. The Eagles set a team record with 70 sacks (two shy of the NFL record) and are deep and talented up front with game-wreckers.

Daniel Jones had premium protection in the Giants’ 31-24 wild-card win against the Vikings who, despite boasting two lethal edge rushers, managed to create only four quarterback hits and were shredded for 7.6 yards per pass attempt, along with 13 runs by Jones for 81 yards.

The Eagles are simply a different beast, and it’s difficult to gauge how much of the Giants’ improved passing will carry over against an elite opponent.

But if Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka can devise a plan to slow down the Eagles’ rush and create third-and-manageables with a balanced attack, that gives the Giants a shot. And you can never doubt the ability of this coaching staff to find the right adjustments.

The offense took off down the stretch of the season as Jones elevated his game and receivers Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins and Richie James developed chemistry together, because that prevented defenses from simply loading the box against Barkley.

“I think each week you just go through that process and evaluate how the scheme is looking, what we’re seeing on defense,” Kafka said. “We can put our players in the best spot to be successful and execute.”


Even though these teams have faced off twice already, there is little to glean from those matchups. The Giants were down three defensive starters in Week 14 at home, although that can’t account for a 26-point blowout loss. Yet the Eagles only won by six in Week 18 while playing their starters against nearly all Giants backups.

You can bet on Hurts being healthier and more explosive this time with two more weeks to heal his shoulder, but the Giants’ defense should feel good about its chances to limit the Eagles’ offense.

The Giants were stout in the red zone last time in Philadelphia by keeping the Eagles out of the end zone on four of five trips. And now they are adding defensive lineman Leonard Williams, top cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and safety Xavier McKinney, who didn’t play in either game.

Williams must win his 1-on-1 matchups since Philadelphia is sure to send double teams against All-Pro nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, especially since the Eagles rushed for 253 yards in Week 14, more than any other team has against the Giants this season. And Jackson and McKinney should help the Giants contain big plays by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.

It will be fascinating to see how Eagles defensive coordinator Wink Martindale approaches Round 3. The Giants blitzed on a league-high 44 percent of their opponents’ drop-backs during the season but only 22.5 percent of the time against the Vikings. That number will likely uptick again as the Giants look to test the health of Hurts and banged-up right tackle Lane Johnson.

Ultimately, the Giants must win the turnover battle, take advantage of their own red-zone opportunities and not settle for too many field goals. Keeping it close into the fourth quarter is really all the Giants can ask for. That has been their formula all season, and the pressure on the Eagles would mount. They are the team that is supposed to be in the Super Bowl.

The last time the Giants were in this round back in 2012, they knocked off the 15-1 Packers at Green Bay and won it all. History repeating itself will require New York to win at Philadelphia for the first time since October of 2013.

“When I hear the crowd getting fired it, it fires me up,” Williams said of Lincoln Financial Field. “I don’t really care if they’re rooting for the other color or not. I take it as my own. I actually love that type of environment. The last game we played in against the Vikings, they just had an incredible environment and I loved it.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.